Every once in awhile, D. & T. have those random conversations wherein it ends up one doesn’t know what the other is talking about. (Okay, let’s be real, here: it happens far more often than “once in awhile.”)
Late Sunday morning, T. was volubly holding forth on a girlfriend who had married outside of her culture, ending with, “She’s totally against the macho thing, you know, against the whole ‘brown-skinned girl, stay home and mind the baby’ thing.”
“What?” D. asked, who probably had only been half listening to begin with. “Who would even say that?”
“It’s a SONG. You’re the one that taught me the song.”
“Uh, no, I did not. I’ve never even heard that song.
“Yes, you have!”
“No, seriously – I haven’t.
“Um… I think… it was in that movie. It was Whoopie Goldberg, and… that guy. Sarafina?“
*D. taps on laptop keys* “That’s… a movie about South Africa. Whose baby is she supposed to be minding?”
“That doesn’t sound right…”
*more digging into the hivemind of the internet*
“Clara’s Heart! I think the kids at [school where T. taught] must have watched that for a class project… don’t know why I thought it was you.”
*D. watches short clip of Whoopie Goldberg singing*”Is that Patrick Swayze? Isn’t he dead?”
“Uh, no, that’s Neil…Patrick… Harris and no, he’s very not dead. Never mind. I’m still trying to figure out, whose babies? That’s got to be the most insulting thing to say to anyone, so why is she singing it to preschool kids?”
*D. on the internet, looking for something else by now* “No idea.”
Well, we still don’t know, and neither of us are willing to watch a movie from the 80’s to find out – but T. wanted to look up the lyrics to the song. Because it was a popular Harry Belafonte song in the fifties, it has turned up on the background music of more than one film. But, according to the Historical Museum of Southern Florida’s “Calypso: a World of Music” page:
“Brown Skin Girl” was composed by Trinidadian calypsonian King Radio in 1946, in response to the presence of American servicemen in Trinidad during World War II. The calypso commented on the practice of soldiers and sailors fathering babies and then returning to the United States. In the song’s chorus, a serviceman tells his paramour:
I’m going away, in a sailing boat
And if I don’t come back, stay home and mind baby.
While its social commentary was typical of calypso, the song undoubtedly became a favorite with audiences because of its infectious melody. Caribbean-American singer Harry Belafonte popularized the calypso in his smash-hit album titled Calypso (1956). Since then it has remained a standard part of the repertoire of Caribbean hotel entertainers. Meanwhile, jazz versions of “Brown Skin Girl” have appeared on recordings by Sonny Rollins and Roy Haynes.”
Both of us were a little sobered at finding the provenance of this lighthearted sounding song. They say that our culture is America’s greatest export… Hm. Maybe not.